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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools becomes living wage employer

For workers who live in Orange County, nearly 40 percent earn less than a living wage.

To qualify as a living wage employer in Orange County, businesses and organizations must pay both full and part-time employees a minimum $12.75 per hour.

If health insurance is provided, the employees must be paid a minimum of $11.25 per hour.

This compares to the legal minimum in North Carolina, which is $7.25 per hour.

CHCCS raised the salaries of a combination of 72 custodians and bus monitors by $1.30 per hour.

Over the course of one year, the combined total increase for all of the affected employees in the school system will add up to $36,000.

The increase ensured that all of the school system’s 2,043 employees are paid a living wage.

A living wage is the minimum amount of money an employee must earn to afford basic necessities without public or private assistance.

Living wages differ depending on location and also take into account different housing costs.

“We certainly value the employees and we want to make sure they are well taken care of,” said Jeff Nash, spokesperson for CHCCS.

The Orange County Living Wage project certifies and promotes businesses and organizations that pay their workers a living wage.

The nonprofit publicizes the living wage employers through social media and speaking engagements.

Orange County Living Wage project also holds ‘buycotts,’ which are organized times to support certified living wage businesses.

“(A living wage) will help more and more of the employees to live in the area where they work,” said Susan Romaine, chairperson of the organization.

Romaine said that, while providing a living wage helps employees, there are also benefits for businesses and organizations.

“Higher wages promote better morale, better productivity and more loyalty to the organization or to the business,” she said.

The Orange County Living Wage project, which launched in November, has now certified almost 50 different employers.

Some of the certified employers are Beer Study in Carrboro, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe on Franklin Street and Weaver Street Realty.

Their kickoff party was held at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro, which is also a certified living wage employer.

“We’ve always believed in paying our employees more than the industry standard,” said Eric Knight, an employee at Steel String Brewery.

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It was important to Steel String Brewery to give back to the community, Knight said.

Knight said that because the government has not taken initiative to raise the minimum wage, it was up to the brewery to pick up the slack.

“We’re happy to be a small part of this growing movement,” Knight said.